The 10 works in Peter Maxwell Davies's Naxos Quartet cycle, now complete on disc, make a hugely varied sequence in mood, manner, scale and inspiration, and the last pair released here, illustrate that perfectly. Where the tenth still seems, as it did at its final performance last year, a curiously insubstantial work with which to end such a major undertaking, more like a neo-baroque suite of genre pieces than a trenchantly argued final word, the Ninth, completed in 2006, is one of the most imposing and challenging works in the cycle, with six movements laid out almost on the scale of one of Beethoven's late quartets. Davies describes its long first movement as having autobiographical content, conjuring memories fof his Manchester childhood during the second world war - the air-raid sirens and the exploding bombs - incorporated into the dense, rapidly changing string writing, and the equally extensive slow moevement that follows develops these ideas, the work changing tack, with a quick-fire sequence of character sketches, followed by a finale that draws the threads together. It's a complex, puzzling work, but the Maggini Quartet make it wonderfully plausible and leave no doubt about the creative fire behind it. Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 9/19/2008
The opening Allegro [of Quartet No 9] immediately pitchforks us into a maelstrom of terse, urgent musical argument. Maxwell Davies had originally written a separate Allegro and Largo but compacted the former and discarded the latter, using material from the Largo as slow intrusions embedded in the first movement and fast material from it as interjections in the Largo flessibile that became the actual second movement and which is one of the most disturbing stretches of music Davies has ever written.
Maxwell Davies regards the compact third, fourth and fifth movements as a play-within-a-play, remembering Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These are respectively a scherzo with a trio that is a wild lurching dance, a Lento which seems to speak to us from somewhere outside of the main work and a military march which of course goes horribly wrong in the manner of all of Maxwell Davies’s recent military marches.
The finale continues and clinches the harmonic concerns and febrile content of the entire work, nowhere more so than in the cliffhanger of the final bars. With the hindsight of the tenth quartet, if there is a full stop to the Naxos cycle it appears here. As with the eight symphonies, the cycle is ‘completed’ in the penultimate work and the numerically final work moves into fresh territory. The Tenth Naxos Quartet turns out to be one of the detours in the cycle, along with numbers 4, 5 and 8, except that this detour intentionally leads to the possibility of as-yet unwritten quartets (there is no double bar-line at the end of the finale).
Naxos Quartet No.10 is conceived as a quasi-Baroque, five-movement suite of (mainly) Scottish dances and is constructed in a Bartók-like arch-form. The central slow movement, ‘Passamezzo Farewell’, is easily the most substantial. Apart for an ecstatic up-swelling at around the three-quarter mark, the prevailing mood is restrained, serene even, perhaps reflecting the dedication of the work to the memory of Fausto Moroni, Hans Werner Henze’s partner of many years.
Fleeting songs and dances are heard either side of this movement, first a ‘Slow Air and Rant’ and then a fourth-movement entitled ‘Deil Stick da Minister’, once again with parody to the fore. The first and last movements are respectively ‘Broken Reel’ and ‘Hornpipe Unfinished’, both viewed very much through a distorting lens. The latter does yield to a slow central plateau of harmonic distillation before the (alleged!) hornpipe returns and peters out, to be finished off in “the listener’s imagination”, as the composer puts it.
The performances of both works continue in the vein of the previous recordings, with that self-effacing virtuosity that is the speciality of the Maggini Quartet. Its members are equally at home in the language of both the visceral and the pastoral, the bipolar points between which the Naxos cycle fluctuates, often on a hair-trigger.
The Maggini Quartet and Naxos can be immensely proud of their achievements in bringing this landmark cycle into being. As for its composer, it seems that the wider stage is set to reappear following his recent immersion in chamber music. How the experience gained in working with the medium of the string quartet, the most refined and elevated of all musical formats, will be taken back into the orchestral realm is the next exciting adventure in the career of this most exemplary of creative artists.Steve Lomas, www.classicalsource.com, 11/1/2008
The last of 10 quartets commissioned by the label. The Ninth is dedicated to a former lord mayor of Manchester, Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw, who wrote a tratise on the "magic squares" beloved of the composer.Paul Driver, The Sunday Times, 12/1/2009